When Patience Disappears

Interest-rates-1790-2012My Comments: We’ve talked extensively about the likelihood of a market correction, if not a crash, coming in the near future, maybe this year. What many have not talked about are the implications of a rise in interest rates.

This is going to happen, given that they’ve been on a downward trend for twenty plus years and can’t go much lower, if at all. If you want folks like me who manage your money to anticipate these things to avoid chaos and help you make money, you should at least be aware of some of the variables. Here’s an articulate overview.

Commentary by Scott Minerd / February 13, 2015

Advance notice of the timing of a rate hike by the Federal Reserve may hinge on the removal of just one word, warns St. Louis Fed President Bullard.

Market observers keen to anticipate the Federal Reserve’s next move are wise to follow the trail of verbal breadcrumbs laid down by St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, a policymaker I hold in high regard. When Fed policy seems uncertain or even inert, Dr. Bullard’s public statements have historically been a Rosetta stone for deciphering the Fed’s next move.

For example, in July 2010, Bullard wrote in a report ominously titled “Seven Faces of the Peril” that it was evident the Fed’s first round of quantitative easing had not been sufficient to stimulate the economy. In the report, which was widely picked up by the financial press, Bullard warned about the specter of deflation in the U.S. economy, and that the U.S. was “closer to a Japanese-style outcome today than at any time in recent history.”

That summer, months ahead of any Fed decision to proceed with QE2, it was Bullard who began a drumbeat of steady public messages about the necessity of a second round of easing. By August, the Fed was not talking about whether it should implement a new round of QE, but how. In November 2010, the Fed announced its plan to buy $600 billion of Treasury securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011. If you followed Bullard, you were expecting it.

While Bullard is not a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee this time around, I still view him as an important policy mouthpiece. That is why it was so interesting when he underscored Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s comments at a press conference following the committee’s Dec. 16-17 meeting in an interview with Bloomberg, saying that the disappearance of a specific word—“patient”— from the Fed’s statement may be code that a rate increase will come within the next two FOMC meetings. He reiterated the point in a subsequent speech, saying “I would take [“patient”] out to provide optionality for the following meeting…To have this kind of patient language is probably a little too strong given the way I see the data.” When Bullard, the man who told us months in advance to expect QE2, goes to great length to describe when the Fed will raise rates, I tend to pay attention.

While Bullard says the Fed could raise rates by June or July (and I wouldn’t rule that out), I think the likelihood is closer to September and that the central bank will likely raise rates twice this year. Whenever “lift off” actually occurs, we’ve long been anticipating that this day would come. It is a particularly interesting time for investors to consider increasing fixed-income exposure to high quality, floating-rate asset classes, such as leveraged loans and asset-backed securities. The good news is there is still time to prepare for when the Fed finally runs out of patience.

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